No swimming, no peace

June 10, 2015

Elizabeth Clinton and Elizabeth Schulte report on protests in McKinney, Texas, after a racist police assault on Black teenagers attending a pool party.

PROTESTERS TOOK to the streets of McKinney, Texas, in the hundreds in an outpouring of anger after cell-phone video went viral of a police officer throwing 14-year-old Dajerria Becton to the ground, shoving her face into the dirt and then kneeling on her back outside a pool party on June 5.

When furious demonstrators blocked an intersection with their sit-in, they chanted, "If we don't swim, you don't drive."

On the video, Becton can be heard crying and calling for her mother. "He grabbed me, twisted my arm on my back and shoved me in the grass and started pulling the back of my braids," Becton told Fox 4 News. "I was telling him to get off me because my back was hurting bad."

When friends attempted to come to Becton's aid, the officer pulled his gun on them. The scene in the video is of absolute panic: several terrified Black teenagers handcuffed and forced to sit on the ground, asking to know why this was happening, others crying and watching in disbelief.

Eric Casebolt, a patrol supervisor who worked for the McKinney Police Department for 10 years, was quickly put on administrative leave while the case was under investigation. On Tuesday, he announced his resignation--thus ending the internal investigation since he is no longer an employee of the McKinney Police Department.

Hundreds of people fill the streets in McKinney, Texas, to protest police brutality
Hundreds of people fill the streets in McKinney, Texas, to protest police brutality

But activists aren't going to let that be the end of the story. They are demanding that Casebolt be charged. As one protester named Cory said on Monday before the resignation:

Any other citizen who had assaulted a 14-year-old like that would not only lose their job, but they'd probably also be incarcerated right now. So we think that administrative leave is simply a paid vacation, and we don't think it's fair that he can brutalize a child, pull out a firearm, scare these kids and get a paid vacation. So the reason we are here today is to let McKinney know, and let the world know, that we're not taking this anymore--that we're taking a stand for justice.

At the demonstration on Monday, June 8, 1,000 people rallied outside Comstock Elementary School in an event called by community residents and the Next Generation Action Network. Mothers Against Police Brutality and other community members called a protest outside the McKinney Police Department headquarters that drew about 100 people--it joined the march later.

At the rally, speakers talked about a long history of racial profiling, harassment and assault against Black and Brown people by the McKinney police. Afterward, demonstrators took to the streets and marched through nearby neighborhoods and then Craig Ranch, the subdivision where Casebolt and other cops had harassed the Black and Brown teenage partygoers.

"Black Girls' Lives Matter" was a favorite slogan. As protesters marched through suburban neighborhoods, they chanted, "Let's go swimming!" "We are here!" and "Black Lives Matter"--sending a loud-and-clear message second-class citizenship and police brutality against Black people will not be tolerated.

ON JUNE 5, police were called to a party at a community pool in Craig Ranch, a racially diverse, largely middle-class subdivision in McKinney, which is about 30 miles north of Dallas. In a statement, the police department says it received communications that "juveniles were now actively fighting."

But eyewitnesses say the conflict was instigated by white adult residents who confronted Black partygoers, hurling racial epithets and telling them to "go back to Section 8"--referring to the federal voucher program that helps poor families obtain housing.

Nineteen-year-old Tatiana Rhodes, whose family hosted the cookout, described what happened in an interview posted on YouTube. She said a white woman told her, "You need to go back to where you're from" and to "go back to your Section 8 home." When she replied, "Excuse me," another white woman hit her in the face, and "both women attacked" her, she said.

But when police arrived, they didn't go after the white adults who started the confrontation.

Brandon Brooks, the 15-year-old who filmed the video that went viral on the Internet, told a local news station: "I was one of the only white people in the area when that was happening. You can see in part of the video where he tells us to sit down, and he kind of, like, skips over me and tells all my African American friends to go sit down."

Brooks told BuzzFeed later, "Everyone who was getting put on the ground was Black, Mexican, Arabic. [The cop] didn't even look at me. It was kind of like I was invisible."

According to Brooks, the kids were having fun at a pool party on the last day of school. The fight that apparently prompted the initial police call had ended when officers arrived, but white adults told the cops that they would need reinforcements. Casebolt started grabbing kids, yelling at them, slamming them to the ground and handcuffing them.

The conservative media machine was quick to come to the defense of police officers and attack their victims instead. For example, Fox News' Megyn Kelly provided this "fair and balanced" report: "The girl was no saint, either," Kelly said of the 14-year-old whose face was shoved into the ground by a police officer. "He had told her to leave, and she continued to linger. When a cop tells you to leave, get out."

VISIT THE website for Craig Ranch, and you'll find the slogan, "Welcome to what has never been."

But this has been before--about 50 years ago. The scenes captured on video from McKinney in 2015 look a lot like the days of Jim Crow segregation--white cops terrorizing Black children for the crime of going to a swimming pool and having fun. It's another reminder that while segregation is illegal, racist discrimination is alive and well, especially when it is carried out by someone with a badge.

The fact that white adults taunted teenagers by telling them to "go back to Section 8" speaks volumes, not only about the racism of a few bigots, but the institutionalized racism that keeps poor and working-class Black residents living separate and unequal in McKinney.

In 2008, the city of McKinney faced a lawsuit for obstructing a plan to build public housing for low-income families in the more affluent western part of the city, where Craig Ranch is located. "The suit alleged that officials had limited Section 8 housing to the east side of town, thus creating a segregated city," reported Color Lines.

Swimming pools have long been a battleground in the fight for racial equality in the U.S. In the 1930s, with the construction of public pools around the country under the auspices of the Public Works Administration, cities kept pools segregated by building them in racially homogenous neighborhoods. According to the book Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America, Blacks were kept out of some facilities when staff told them they would need a "health certificate." Whites, of course, were not asked for certificates.

In many cases, city officials turned the other way when racists mobs took it upon themselves to segregate the pools. It was not unusual for Blacks to be attacked by racists when they ventured to "white" pools--and when the police finally arrived on the scene, Blacks would be arrested for "inciting a riot" or "disorderly conduct."

During the civil rights movement, swimming pools and beaches became one of the fronts in the battle for equal access. According to Contested Waters, protests against pool segregation in the North began as soon as the Second World War ended. Blacks who had fought for the U.S. in the war were radicalized when they returned home, only to find themselves treated as second-class citizens.

When activists won legal victories granting them access to local pools, the fight usually had to be finished at the pool itself--with Black swimmers confronting racist mobs. In order to truly desegregate Chicago's Rainbow Beach, Blacks organized a series of "wade-ins" in 1960 and 1961 at the beach on 75th Street where Blacks had been regularly chased away. After weeks and weeks of protest, African Americans won the right to swim.

TODAY, IN McKinney, Texas, an old civil rights conflict has re-emerged--in the form of a 14-year-old girl and her friends trying to have fun as the summer begins.

Anti-racists in McKinney and around the Dallas-Fort Worth area aren't going to let this be the end of the story. They are demanding that charges be brought against Casebolt, and they are discussing next steps for organizing our side in the fight against racism. Another march has been called for June 12 at 7 p.m., gathering at the McKinney Police Station. Check Facebook for updates.

Protesters like Ramon from Dallas are concerned that Casebolt's resignation "essentially brings to a halt an investigation":

Looks like he'll be applying to a nearby police department, since he officially wasn't found to have done any wrong. No matter what the police chief says after the fact, saying he was out of control, not following procedures...I think he'll be working as an officer elsewhere. I wonder if anything has been learned from all this? Will training be done different? Will policies, procedures change? Does this address systemic racism?"

Anti-racists protesting in McKinney are part of a growing number of people in cities across the country who are exposing the racist harassment and violence of law enforcement. They are sending a simple message: Black Lives Matter everywhere--walking down a street, driving in a car or playing in a swimming pool.

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